Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Friday asked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to clarify reports that pregnant asylum-seekers have been forced to wait out their immigration cases in Mexican border cities.
Merkley wrote DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, asking why six late-term pregnant women were included in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program in May.
Under the program, known colloquially as “Remain in Mexico,” non-Mexican migrants seeking asylum in the United States are sent back across the border to await results of their asylum claims in U.S. immigration courts.
The Trump administration implemented the program in January with the acquiescence, but not outright support, of the Mexican government, which agreed to take in the migrants rather than deport them back to their countries of origin.
DHS in March expanded the program from the California border to El Paso, Texas, where the pregnant women were reportedly included in MPP.
DHS officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
“Policies and practices targeting pregnant women at the border are horrific and these allegations must be immediately investigated,” wrote Merkley.
Under U.S. law, children born in American territory would be natural-born U.S. citizens. If the children of third-country nationals are born in Mexico, they are also entitled to Mexican citizenship.
While Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican border city across from El Paso, has some infrastructure to provide medical services, migrant shelters in the city are reportedly overbooked and unable to care for guests with specialized needs.
Asylum-seekers with special medical needs are exempt from MPP, but that exemption does not explicitly include pregnancy.
“It is beyond question that pregnant women, particularly those nearing full term, have known health issues,” Merkley wrote.
And Ciudad Juárez is among the most dangerous cities in Mexico, host to more than 170 murders per month.
“Forcing pregnant women to wait alone in Mexico for their asylum hearings puts them at extreme risk of abuse and extortion. Moreover, it creates significant health risks for mothers and children facing imminent delivery dates when proper medical care is not available,” Merkley said.